Wydiffe Muga: Raila's Blunder in the Mau Saga: The Star

Over the past few days, Prime Minister Raila Odinga has been severely criticised by two ODM Cabinet ministers, who are not only prominent in the Cabinet but also members of the so-called Pentagon, the team which was supposed to collectively lead the party after electoral victory in 2007.

The interesting thing is that in one case, the criticism means very little. And in the other, the criticism had huge symbolic significance, and political analysts may yet look back on this as a key turning point in Raila's continuing quest for high office.

Let's start with the criticism that carried no real weight: this was when Tourism minister Najib Balala, supposedly the Coast Province representative on the Pentagon, accused Raila of betrayal and said he was dividing Muslims.

Whatever may have been the provocation, this does not make much sense: Muslim voters are in general a much divided lot, just like Christian voters. Tribal and clan affiliations tend to count for more than religious affiliation when Kenyans vote.

In Garsen Constituency, for example, the reason Danson Mungatana won the seat in 2002 was that the Muslim vote was splintered along communal lines.

But of course the reason Balala is so bitter is no secret either. For the past few months, it has become increasingly clear the PM prefers to work with other Coast leaders at the expense of Balala. And this in turn suggests that come the next election, Balala cannot hope to get Raila's support for the Mvita seat.

This could mean the end of Balala's political career, especially if he should face Abdulsamad Nassir, the son of the legendary former Mvita MP Snariff Nassir.

The fact is that Balala would never have won the Mvita seat at any point if it had not been for Raila's support. So he has every right to be nervous: Balala needs Raila but Raila does not need Balala.

But Agriculture minister William Ruto, the other Cabinet minister to criticise Raila, is a different matter. His complaint cannot be casually shrugged off.

Have you noticed that when something bad happens to persons from any Kenyan community, very many members of that community will feel threatened?

In Thika not too long ago, for example, after their businesses were targeted by criminals, the local Asian community held a demonstration to protest police inefficiency.

What some indigenous Kenyans would probably attribute to the common myth that Asians in Kenya tend to keep huge amounts of cash lying about at all times, was seen by these businessmen as a direct threat to their welfare.

Likewise, when we read of violence flaring up at the border of the Tharaka and Tigania communities in Meru, many would be inclined to attribute it to the reputed propensity for violence among the men from that area. But if you were actually from Tharaka or Tigania, you would see it all very differently, even if you live hundreds of miles away from the scene of the violence.

And out of the approximately 1,000 people killed in the post-election violence last year, if there had been just 10 tourists butchered, less than 1 per cent of those murdered, it would have been a great deal more difficult to persuade foreigners to return to Kenya.

It is from such a perspective that the effect of the Mau Forest evictions on the Kalenjin community must be seen. Even if the rest of the country insists on focusing on the big picture and the environmental necessity of this action, this is not how it will seem to the Kalenjin.

All they will see is thousands of their own being added to the numbers of the displaced.

And they will note that where the IDPs originally from Central Province have received money, building materials, and even land, their own are left to shiver in the rain on some muddy roadside, with not a trace of the government assistance that had been pledged if the settlers left peacefully.

As a man who is believed to still have a presidential or prime-ministerial election campaign in his future, Raila should not have allowed this to happen, when there were so many ways in which the government could have mitigated the suffering of these people.

It was a huge strategic blunder. For this is the kind of thing that has a long-term impact on the sentiments of regional voting blocks.

And in this case, the Kalenjin who were among his most fervent supporters back in 2007 will neither forgive nor forget.

Muga comments on topical issues.

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